Top Takeaways:

  • Communication is key. Encourage students to get to know you and each other. Let students know what you expect of them from the beginning, and set your expectations high. Help students know how to improve through regular, quick feedback from you, your teaching assistant, or their peers.
  • Build a learning community. Encourage students to ask questions in formal and informal ways, and allow students to take on leadership roles in class by organizing students into groups of 5-10 students and assigning one student in each group to be the leader, facilitating student teaching opportunities. Recognize learning differences by offering choices for how students might demonstrate their learning.
  • Focus on student learning in class. Use clicker apps and other technology to help students engage with the content in class and to check for understanding. Give students opportunities to use the board, create visuals related to the content, and present information during class.

Timeline:

Some of the techniques shared here can be implemented easily and quickly; however, consider how you might incorporate them as you are planning your course. Building them into your course plan will pay off in the end, even if you have to make adjustments along the way.

Large classes pose unique challenges for instructors and students alike. The question of how to engage students in the content in this course format is a central concern when active, personalized learning is best but also difficult in a large class setting. Structuring your course in some specific ways can make a big difference in learning outcomes for large classes.

Communicate with your Students

  • Introduce yourself and maintain regular contact. Even in a class with 100 or more students, it’s possible to create a collegial atmosphere through regular communication between you and your students. Consider sending out a weekly email or announcement in D2L, giving students friendly reminders and updates, but also use this communication to share a bit about yourself. What do you love about the subject you’re teaching? What’s been in the news about your discipline lately? Share a picture of your dog or the last time you saw a hummingbird, and encourage your students to do the same. Provide students with a forum on D2L to share questions, ideas, and newsworthy information related to the course. This form of casual yet relevant communication helps students feel more connected to the course content.
  • Give prompt feedback. To gauge what they know and how they need to adjust their performance moving forward, students need regular feedback. This can be in the form of in-the-moment knowledge checks during class using clickers or other technology, weekly quizzes, or more qualitative feedback on written assignments. Whatever the format, feedback doesn’t have to be terribly time consuming. As a matter of fact, students can help and learn in the process by grading quizzes themselves or commenting on student writing using your example as a model.
  • Communicate high expectations. Students tend to strive to meet the expectations of the instructor, so establishing that you have high expectations and that you believe all students can meet those expectations given the right amount of focus and effort makes a big difference to students’ engagement and motivation. Communicate your expectations clearly, and explain what part you will play in helping students reach their goals for the course. This helps students feel supported, which also affects their willingness to try to achieve at the level of your expectations.

Build Community

  • Encourage contact between students and faculty. Ask questions and encourage students to do the same. Think of students’ questions as a gauge for how fast and in what direction the lecture should be headed. Move around the room so students at the back experience being up close to the instructor, and set up a system for students to communicate with you outside of class via office hours, online Q&A forum, or email.
  • Develop reciprocity and collaboration among students. Students often find new and helpful ways to explain the content when they’re given the opportunity to collaborate. Consider establishing permanent groups of 5-10 students at the beginning of the term so they have the opportunity to create small, friendly communities within the larger class. This will allow them to connect in and out of class, study together, participate in in-class activities easily, and help to keep each other accountable, which is very difficult for the instructor to do when a class gets larger than 40 or 50 people. You might assign a leader to each group who will report group progress, questions, and ideas on a regular basis.
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning. Students will come to your class with diverse experiences, expectations, and ways of learning. Rather than attempting to mold them to your way of teaching, create a flexible environment that gives students the opportunity to connect with the course material in their own way. This may mean providing them with choices, asking them to help make decisions about the course, or providing them with several ways to study or demonstrate understanding.

Focus Class Time on Student Learning

  • Engage in active learning. The more students do, the more they learn. Using think, pair, share activities; short writing and discussion activities; and knowledge checks with clickers can help students apply course content in meaningful ways. Also, finding ways for students to go to the board or present information to the whole class will activate all students more.
  • Emphasize time on task. Time on task means the time students spend directly focusing on the course content and practicing relevant skills. In a large class, any technique that helps keep students’ attention contributes to their time on task. That may mean using humor, taking breaks, providing visual or auditory aids that serve as mnemonic devices, etc. Consider how you might have students create visuals related to what they’re learning that they can then share in class or online. Students are more likely to incorporate new information into what they already know if they are asked to create something that helps them make connections.

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